Cold Steeping Grains

Cold steeping dark grains is a great way of adding smooth clean flavor a to your porters and stouts without the risk of leaching tannins or disturbing your mash pH. First off, I think we should go into what cold steeping actually is. Most simply, cold steeping is the process of extracting the flavor and color of specialty grains through steeping in cold water.

Why Cold Steep?

There are two major reasons for cold steeping, Mash pH and Astringency. Dark, highly modified grains go through a very hot killing process. The effect of this roasting is not just flavor and color changes, but also changes in the chemical structure of the grain. Dark grains tend to lend more acidity to the mash. Now this is not always a bad thing, especially when brewing with highly alkaline (High pH) water. Unfortunately most water is relatively balanced in its pH. This means that the dark grains will bring your mash below the sweet spot of 5.2. This low pH will give your beer a very sharp character and will inhibit the enzymes of your mash. Cold steeping negates this issue by mashing only the base grains and light specialty malt; this way the mash is unaffected by the low pH grains.

The other aspect which makes cold brewing a useful tool is its ability to bypass the astringent aspect of roast grains. When exposed to hot water, dark grains tend to leach out acrid and astringent flavors. When cold steeping, the dark grains are exposed to no more than ten minutes of heat, and may even be exposed to no heat under certain conditions.

Cold Steep Process

There are numerous ways to conduct a cold steep. Experiment and see what process works best for you and your brew house. I have outlined my basic cold steeping process below.

1) Select your Grains: For the choice of grains, you want to stick with highly killed malt that will not require any heat to extract or convert sugars. At this point you just want color and flavor extraction. Good choices are black, black patent, special b, and chocolate malts.

2) Grind the Grains: If you don’t have access to your own mill, don’t worry about this step and go with the local homebrew shop’s mill setting. If you have control, go with a more coarse grind. Since you don’t have hulls to work with, clumping can be more of an issue so a more course grind will help prevent this issue.

3) Conduct the Steep: add the grains to your steeping bag. When it comes to the bag, bigger is better to allow more room for circulation in the steep. Fill a good grade bucket with 2 quarts of good quality water per pound of grain. Add the grain bag to the water and let steep over night, mixing occasionally to allow better extraction.

Cold Steep

4) Remove the Grain Bag: Carefully remove the grain bag from the steeping liquid. It’s fine to squeeze the bag at this point, just try not to allow any husk material to enter the mix.

Remove bag

5) Add Cold Steep to Boil: With a minute left in the boil, add the steeping liquid. You should notice that the color changes dramatically when it is added. Stir gently till the mixture is well incorporated.

Before Picture        After

6) Finish the Brew Day as per normal.


Recipe: Chocolate Coffee Oatmeal Stout

This beer is based on a classic oatmeal stout but with some twists. Firstly it uses the cold steep technique for the chocolate malt and black printz. Secondly 3 shots of espresso were added at kegging to add a caffeine buzz. While this makes a very smooth beer, it is possible that the roasted flavors of a stout are lost in this recipe.

  • 10 Lb Marris Otter
  • 1 Lb Flaked Oats
  • 0.75 Lb Chocolate Malt
  • 0.75 Lb Black Printz
  • 1.5 oz East Kent Golding – 60 Minutes
  • Wyeast 1469

Mashed at 155 for 60 Minutes. Fermented at ambient temperatures.


References

Brew in a Bag

IMG_3284As I sit in the driveway, reading a book, listening to the migrating geese in the pond, and occasionally glancing at the brew kettle, I took a deep swig of my coffee. It was a great day for brewing, with the sun shining and only a bit of breeze. Even though most of my equipment is electric, I still enjoy taking a day to brew outside with my old homebrew set up. Even when you have all the brewing gadgets and “toys”, it’s just nice to take a step back and get back to brewing basics. For me, one of the best ways to scale back my brewing procedure is to do a brew in a bag session. Many brewers only do brew in a bag and it’s very easy to see why. Brew in a bag offers many distinct advantages including minimal equipment, less mess at the end of the brew day, and reasonably good brew house efficiency. The only two disadvantages with brew in a bag are temperature stability and mash control.

Below, I’ve outlined my Brew in a Bag Process. This is just one way which you can conduct a brew in a bag session and it far from the most efficient. I take a very low tech approach to brew in a bag which can be adapted to whatever equipment you have. If you don’t have any some of the tools Ive used, feel free to experiment (this can be your time to MacGyver some Homebrew)


 

IMG_3280Step 1 – Heating the Mash Water: As a general rule of thumb, put 1.5 quarts of water into your brew pot for every pound of grain your have (Example: For 10 pounds of Grain you would use 15 quarts of Water). Bring the water to approximately 160° F and remove the brew pot from the heat. If you want a more precise tool for estimating the amount of water you should use for the mash, go to Brew 365 and plug in your brew day numbers into the calculator.

IMG_3284Step 2 – Adding the Grains & Mashing: This is where you start to have a bit of choice. Personally, I add the bag to the water first (lining the brew kettle with the bag and allowing a pocket in the middle) and then add my grains while stirring. Alternatively, you can add your grains to the bag and then add the bag to the water. I prefer the former method because it allows you to stir the mash and get a homogeneous mixture, where as adding everything at once can give you the dreaded dough balls and decrease your efficiency. In either case add the grain bag and grains to the mash water and stir. Then put the lid on the pot and store it somewhere warm. If you are very concerned about loosing heat during your mash you can wrap your brew kettle in blankets. Let the mash rest for approximately an hour while you heat up your sparge water to approximately 170° F.

IMG_3307Step 3 – Lautering: Once again, you have some choice in how you want to lauter. I take the edges of the brew bag and form a very loose knot in the bag, so no grains can slip out. I then take a colander (or on this day a pizza cooling rack) and place the brew bag on top, over the brew kettle. At this point I use a measuring cup to slowly poor the sparge water over top of the grain bag, making sure to hit all areas of the bag. I continue this until I have reached my desired pre-boil gravity (again calculated through Brew 365). I have heard of other people putting their grain bag directly into the sparge water and simply mixing, but I think that this creates more mess and possibly less efficiency. Additionally, Ive heard of people adding all of their water at once and not doing any sparge. I would not recommend this last method since it could dilute the mash so much that the enzymes could not effectively reach the sugars, but the choice is yours.

Step 4 – Boil: At this point you will be conducting the boil as you would normally for any all grain brew day. Once the wort is collected, you can add heat and begin your boil. Once a boil is achieved, add hops as directed by your recipe.

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IMG_3318Step 5 – Chill: Once the wort is finished its boil you begin your cooling process. Your goal it to get the wort down to approximately 70 degrees. Once it is cool, you will rack (transfer) your wort into your fermenter. The only special consideration you may need to make is how carefully you siphon off the wort. Brew in a bag can create more trub than when using a mash tun (partly due to the lack of a vorlauf step) and so more care is needed to avoid this greater amount of debris.

The remaining fermentation is exactly the same as with any other wort production method. Once again, my process of brew in a bag is certainly not the only way, but hopefully I have given you some tips on brewing with this awesome method.

Tincture Brewing

IMG_2866First off, what is a tincture? A tincture is simply an infusion of a spice or herb in an alcoholic solution. Traditionally these were used for medical purposes, extracting and preserving the healing properties of herbs and spices for use at a later time. A happy extension of this practice is the infused alcohol which we enjoy in cocktails (think rosemary infused vodka martini or the infamous Jägermeister). For our purposes as brewers, we can use these tinctures to improve our homebrew. Tinctures allow a quick, precise, and relatively easy way of adding a unique and exciting boost of flavor to your beer.

Advantages of Tinctures

Tinctures provide the home brewer with a number of distinct advantages over simply adding the flavoring agents to the beer. Firstly, tinctures allow for a precise amount of control over the amount of flavor added. When added at the end of fermentation or before bottling, the brewer can add small amounts of a tincture and taste the beer with each addition. This prevents the risk of adding too much or too little flavor and can cater the taste exactly to your personal preferences.

The next great advantage is the reduced risk of infection. While many herbs and spices, hops included, have inherent antimicrobial properties, there are still some which may harbor bacteria. By soaking your flavor addition in an alcoholic solution, you are significantly reducing the chances of a rogue microbe getting into your beer. The alcohol not only extracts flavor but sanitizes at the same time.

The final great advantage is the shorter time frame associated with tinctures. This is especially true when working with oak. When aging on oak, the time required for full extraction can be along the lines of months to even years. On the other hand, you can make an oak tincture (with either vodka or bourbon) and have it ready for addition within 2 weeks time. While it is true that this can take away from some of the complexity associated with oak, its time advantage can definitely outweigh this disadvantage.

What Spices/Herbs to Use

Any spice or herb can be used as a tincture. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the flavor of your tincture should compliment the beer you put it in. While sage may be delicious in a saison or Belgian wit, its flavors may clash with a malty porter. I’ve outlined a number of spices/herbs you may want to try, and the beers that they could go very well with.

  • Sage: With a fresh yet potent aroma, sage screams out spring. It makes an excellent addition to saisons and Belgian wits but I would recommend using it with a light hand as it’s flavor can get overpowering very quickly.
  • Rosemary: This is one of my favorite herbs and it lends itself very well to beer. I personally enjoy using rosemary in my saisons, but I could see it being an excellent addition to a Belgian golden ale or possibly even a dry cream ale.
  • Mugwort: Said to ward off evil spirits and promote vivid dreams, this unique herb possess a sage like aroma and intense bittering potential. This is one of the ancient bittering herbs used for gruits. Try it today ind rich porters or northern English brown ales.
  • Heather: This herb is common to the Scottish highlands and was commonly used in old school scotch ales. With the high taxes associated with hops (usually grown in more southern climates) the Scotts often turned to this bitter herb to mellow out the malt in their beers. Heather possesses floral and earthy notes. Try adding a tincture of heather to your next scotch ale.
  • Cinnamon: This favorite spice can be found in almost every pantry across America. Obviously cinnamon imparts a cinnamon type flavor, but what many people don’t realize is that cinnamon lends a unique spicy heat to the beers it is put in. You could experiment by adding just a dash to your next stout or English mild. I’ve had a great deal of success adding cinnamon to Irish Red ales.
  • Vanilla: We all know vanilla from various experiments in baking. Its flavors go very well in stouts, particularly milk stouts. For something a bit beyond the pale, you could try adding this to a blond or cream ale. If you want to try an example of this, Forgotten Boardwalk’s Funnel Cake Ale is a Cream Ale brewed with lactose sugar and vanilla.
  • Cocoa Nibs: Cocoa nibs are just dried and fermented cocoa beans. They lend a rich chocolate flavor to your beer. For a pure chocolate flavor, add these to a neutral spirit such as vodka. For something a bit more extraordinary, you could add them to either rum or bourbon. Stouts would be the classic beer to add this tincture to but Triptych Brewery’s Golden Oatie adds coffee and cocao nibs to their blond ale with very unique results.
  • Pumpkin Spice Mix: The types of beer that you could put this mix into are endless. My personal favorite style is a rich and malty amber, but I have put it in stouts and saisons as well with varying levels of success.
  • Gingerbread Mix: I generally like putting this mix in brown ales but it really could go into anything. Check out the recipe below for my Gingerbread Beer Recipe.
  • Winter Spice Mix: Generally consists of allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, ginger but other permutations are more than possible. I have heard of cardamom being used as well as mint. Generally this mix is associated with very full bodied malty beers. You could try them in an old ale, a stout, or a porter

How to Make a Tincture

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While this is not the only method of making a tincture, it is a great starting point for the newbie willing to experiment. The following pictures are from an experimental green tea tincture I decided to make.

Clean Equipment Step 1: Start by thoroughly washing your container. While sanitation is not essential for this process, it is important to make sure there is no dirt which could lead to off flavors in your tincture. As far as choice of container, I personally like using canning jars. In regard to size, I would recommend either 4 oz or 8 oz jars. They are large enough to provide almost any size tincture, but small enough to easily fit into any space for storage.

Add Spice/Herb to JarStep 2: Add your spice or herb to the mason jar. For wet herbs, I would recommend shredding them lightly to increase surface aria and release some of the essential oils. The amount that you use is completely your prerogative and is a matter of personal choice. At this point, it would be hard to go overboard with the amount since you will essentially be diluting this mixture later.

Step 3: Add the alcohol to the jar. Make sure that the spirits are completely covering the spice.

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Store the TinctureStep 4: Store the tincture in a dark place. The warmer the location, the faster the extraction will occur. Every few days give the jar a shake to mix the herb/spice and disperse the flavor. After 2 weeks, the tincture will be fully extracted. Longer wait time will only increase the potency. A combination of tasting and trial and error will let you know when its finished extracting.

Straining TincturesStep 5: Once you have decided that your tincture is finished extracting its time to take the extract off of the herb/spice. There are a number of ways to do this. One is to purchase a fine mesh bag and squeeze until all of the tincture is separated from the left over gloop. Another way is to use plain old coffee filters. While less efficient than a mesh bag, coffee filter’s convenience and price point makes them a reasonable alternative. Store in a cool dark location. Shelf life should be good for several months before flavors begin to diminish.


Recipe: Gingerbread Brown Ale

This beer is the perfect winter brew, combining the rich malt of an English brown ale with the warm spice of gingerbread. This makes an excellent gift to family or friends for the holidays. Although the spice diminishes slightly as the beer ages, the flavor still gives the beer a unique twist.

Gingerbread BrownOG: 1.060 —- FG: 1.015 —- ABV: 5.9%

  • 6.6 Lb Gold LME
  • 0.5 Lb Carapils
  • 0.5 Lb Crystal 80
  • 0.5 Lb Biscuit
  • 0.5 Lb Chocolate
  • 0.5 Lb Marris Otter
  • 3/4 oz (East Kent Golding) – 60 min
  • 3/4 oz (East Kent Golding) – 20 min
  • 8 g (Gingerbread Spice Mix) – Flameout
  • Gingerbread Spice Tincture to Taste

Yeast: Wyeast 1318 (London Ale III)

Notes: Gingerbread Spice Mixture as Follows (2 Part Cinnamon : 2 Part Ground Ginger : 1 Part All Spice : 1 Part Clove : 1 Part Nutmeg)

Next time I will consider dialing back on the darker malts in order to balance the profile and make the beer a bit lighter in both body and color.


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